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Joint statement on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Issued jointly by Mr Jean Fischer, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Dr Milan Opocenski, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser of the World Council of Churches.

19 March 1997

Issued jointly by Mr Jean Fischer, general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, the Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev. Dr Milan Opocenski, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser of the World Council of Churches, 19 March 1997.

The UN International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21st, particularly in this European Union Year Against Racism, is a timely reminder of the racism which exists in Europe and our churches. As executive officers of ecumenical bodies whose membership includes European churches, we add our voices to those who struggle against the scourge of racism and its dangerous and inhuman manifestations.

The continuing existence of the blight of racism is an affront to the ministry of Jesus Christ, which was accomplished to reconcile all people to God and to each other.

We view, with deep misgiving, the growing acceptance by individuals and political parties, of organizations which promote racist views.

Deepening economic crises and rising unemployment in many countries have a n especially detrimental effect on the already excluded sections of national societies, increasing the racial or cultural discrimination against them. This is particularly true for many women who bear the double burden of both racial and gender discrimination.

Migrants, immigrants and refugees become scapegoats for unemployment, crime and a host of other problems throughout Europe. Through the adoption, by governments and others, of the terminology of "illegal migrants", the most basic rights, and even the existence of these people, are being denied. Those without papers, even if they have lived in Europe for a number of years, have become victims of acts of racism. Often that violence is carried out against them with impunity.

To affirm the commitment of the churches to uphold the dignity and rights of all refugees and migrants, 1997 is being marked in Europe, and worldwide, as the Ecumenical Year of the Churches' Solidarity with Uprooted People.

But it is not only racism affecting migrants which worries us. Many individuals born in Europe of mixed parentage are also discriminated against because of their colour; minority groups such as the Roma/Sinti also suffer.

We note with great concern that the spectre of anti-Semitism is again, in many and varied ways, haunting Europe. This reveals a disturbing reluctance to deal with the past in openness and with repentance. It is essential for us, as Christians, to actively oppose anti-Jewish acts and rhetoric, no matter the origin.

It is heartening that some political and humanitarian activists are calling for justice and compassion and we wish to identify with them. There are also a large number of local congregations and churches who have been outspoken on these issues and have shown tremendous personal courage as they stand in solidarity with the victims of racism and xenophobia.

But despite the activities of the international community during two United Nations decades for action to combat racism and racial discrimination, racism seems as prevalent, and as diverse, as ever. It is therefore appropriate to renew our commitment and redouble our efforts against racism. For this reason we welcome and support the Europe-wide Week of Action Against Racism.

We urge our member churches and their congregations to consider whether, even unwittingly, our churches contribute to discriminatory local or national policies.